Is My Pet in Pain?

Like us, our pets experience pain, however they are unable to tell us if they are hurt. As pet owners, we need to recognise the signs of pain so that we can get them the treatment they need.

What are the different types of pain?

Broadly speaking, pain falls into two categories; acute pain and chronic pain. Acute pain is often more obvious and is usually the result of a physical injury, such as a road traffic accident, broken leg or surgical wound. Chronic pain often has more subtle signs and is usually the result of ongoing conditions such as arthritis, joint and dental disease.


Both types of pain can be difficult to assess in our pets, as for most it is their instinct to hide any discomfort so that they don’t appear weak to other animals. Chronic pain in particular is often subtle and owners commonly think that their pet is simply getting older or slowing down, when in fact they are suffering in silence.

How can I tell if my pet is in pain?

Just like us, animals experience pain and respond to it in different ways. Think about how differently two people can respond to stubbing their toe; one person may take a deep breath and hobble away, while another may cry out and clutch at their foot, despite having experienced the same injury. Recognising that our pets will also display pain differently can help us to avoid overlooking signs that they are in discomfort. Here are a few of the things to look out for:


Some dogs may whimper, yelp or whine if they are in discomfort. Cats may constantly meow, growl or even purr if they are in pain and rabbits may grind their teeth. Remember, that just because your pet is not vocalising it does not mean they aren’t in pain. If we twist our ankle, we don’t all constantly say “Ow” for the next few days! Similarly our pets may not vocalise either.

Attention to a wound, injured area, or particular area of the body

If an animal is uncomfortable in a certain area, they will often repeatedly lick, groom or chew at the area. If they are in severe discomfort, if you try to touch the area, they may show a guarding behaviour, either by moving the affected area or their whole body away from you, or by becoming aggressive.

Demeanour and behaviour

As pet owners, we know our pets best. If they suddenly start acting out of character, it may be an indication that they are in pain. Has your pet suddenly started demanding more attention? Do they seem quiet and withdrawn, or have they become aggressive? Is your pet suddenly inappropriately toileting, drinking more or urinating more? Any behavioural change can be a symptom of pain.


A dog that is in discomfort may appear restless and change position a lot as they are unable to get comfortable. Some dogs with pain in their belly may look like they are doing a yoga position and stand on their hindlimbs, but have their chest and front legs flat on the floor. Cats that are in discomfort often stay in the same hunched up position for lengthy time periods, hiding away in confined spaces or corners.


Watch your pet closely as they move – are they having difficulty getting up from lying down? Are they reluctant to go up or down the stairs? Do they have a hunched back or look stiff when they walk? Are they limping? Are they exercising and moving around less than they used to? All of these are signs that your pet is in pain and indicate that your pet needs to be examined by a vet.


When your pet is settled, watch how they breathe. Animals in discomfort will often have a higher breathing rate and a short, shallow breathing pattern. Dogs may inappropriately pant when they are at rest.


Contrary to popular belief, just because your pet is eating it does not mean they are not in pain. However, some pets may have a reduced appetite or difficulty eating if they are in discomfort.

Facial expression

It is important to look at your pet’s body language for signs of hunching and tension, in particular their face. Signs that a dog may be in pain include: furrowed brows, flattened ears, drawn back lips, dilated pupils and a fearful appearance. Cats may have a squinting appearance to the eyes, a smiling expression around the mouth and a flattened, outward facing ear position. Rabbits often grimace or screw their faces up – but usually only when they think you aren’t watching.


Cats and small furry animals may stop grooming if they are in pain, or overgroom a particular area of their body. Sometimes the first sign of discomfort you may see is that your pet has developed a bald patch on their coat, or conversely a matted clump of fur.

What should you do if you think your pet is in pain?


Please never be tempted to give your pet any human medications, as many of these are extremely toxic to pets and can be fatal.

If you suspect that your pet could be in pain, please book an appointment with us at the veterinary clinic. One of our vets will perform a thorough examination from nose to tail to assess your pet for any signs of discomfort, pinpointing the source of pain. The vet will ask you questions about your pet’s behaviour, activity levels and appetite and along with the physical examination findings, they will be able to create a tailored pain management plan to make sure your pet is comfortable. A pain management plan may include: further investigations such as X-rays or blood tests, pain medications, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, weight management, exercise plans, supplements and environmental modifications at home.

It is important to be observant with our pets and seek prompt veterinary advice for any concerns, after all, they can’t tell us what’s wrong. Remember, if your pet has an injury or illness that would be painful to a human, it will also be painful to them and if they are showing any of the symptoms above, seek help and give us a call.